NFL Canton is next for Smith
The all-time rushing champ retired with 18,355 yards.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Emmitt Smith decided to stop running. There was nothing left to prove, no records left to chase.
Breaking down in tears and grasping his beloved Dallas Cowboys helmet, Smith retired Thursday after a 15-year career in which he became the NFL's career rushing leader and played a key role on three Super Bowl champions.
The decision had been expected for several days, but the finality of it all was still poignant. Flanked by his wife, Pat, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Smith thanked a list of people several pages long -- everyone from his Pee Wee football coaches to longtime Dallas fullback Darryl "Moose" Johnston, the fierce blocker who cleared so many holes for No. 22.
"It's been a tremendous ride," said Smith, who spent his final two years with the Arizona Cardinals after 13 seasons in Big D. "My 15 years, my 15 minutes of fame, is up."
There's one more stop -- Canton.
"I'm going to be biased when you ask who's the greatest running back of all time," Johnston said. "You can probably make a case for eight to 10 guys. But for me, it's always been Emmitt."
Smith ran for an NFL record 18,355 yards and his 164 rushing touchdowns is also a record. He closed out his career by running for 937 yards and nine touchdowns in Arizona this season.
Smith, 35, was more consistent than he was spectacular, a running back who could be relied on to get tough yards when tough yards were needed.
He rushed for 1,000 yards or more every year between 1991 and 2001. He led the NFL in rushing from 1991-93, then again in 1995. He also paced the league in touchdowns three times.
But despite his impressive statistics, he won just two major awards in 15 seasons -- NFL MVP in 1993 and the Super Bowl MVP that same season, when he rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys' 30-13 win over Buffalo. He also had perhaps his best game with a separated shoulder, rushing for 229 yards in a crucial victory over the New York Giants.
"Emmitt has never forgot he was part of a team and what the team meant," Jones said. "Your place in our franchise has always been secure."
It was only appropriate that Smith retired at the Super Bowl, having been part of Dallas' glorious run in the 1990s -- three championships in four years with a team featuring Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.
Many were shocked when Smith left Dallas after the 2002 season, deciding to extend a career that was clearly past its prime.
Smith said he had no regrets, other than failing to meet his goal of leading Arizona to the playoffs.
He acknowledged Cardinals coach Dennis Green, one of several hundred people who crowded the room for Smith's retirement.
"I want to thank the Cardinals for letting me play two more years," he said. "I padded that record. That does mean a lot to me."